Votes at 16
Votes at 16

Young member Ben Marshall argues his case for why the voting age should be lowered in the UK.

At 16 years old, I can die for my country. I can marry. I can have children who will be British citizens. But I cannot vote on the future of our country.

This means young people have no voice in Parliament. We can support parties through campaigning and membership, but we cannot put them in power. We are not a part of the electorate.

To understand why this is so important, we need only look at history. Working Class householders got the vote in 1867. What followed was a movement of political change in the favour of the working class, with new legislation to benefit them. For instance, the Sanitary Act of 1875 replaced slums with housing, enforced clean water and provided sewage treatment in all urban areas. This movement saved the lives of thousands of working class people.

Why the sudden change in Government interest? Because the working man had the vote. They became valuable to all parties who had to protect the working class interests to secure the vote of the people.

The same again happened with the suffragette movement in 1918. The women’s vote was followed by the beginnings of government action to fight for gender equality (although it could be said we still have a way to go on that front).

I am not accusing political leaders of not caring at all about the youth. But there’s progress to be made. I’m calling for the voting age to be lowered to 16, to match the age we can fight for and raise citizens of this country. And I am not alone. This week, I conducted a poll at my school: 92% of students asked agreed that the voting aged ought to be lowered. This shows just how conclusive the youth’s opinion is on the matter.

The argument against us is one of maturity. We are deemed too young to make these complex choices. Yet we make all sorts of other life changing decisions, on education, careers and family. Are we truly so immature and impressionable that we cannot comprehend the political world around us?

With the rise of the internet and social media, every generation becomes better informed. We are surrounded by so many voices and opinions that we have an acute awareness of the political world that wasn’t possible forty-seven years ago, in 1970 when the voting age was lowered to 18. Legislation needs to catch up with the ever changing political climate.

This is not a novel idea. In the Scottish referendum of 2014, the voting age was lowered to 16. The voting turnout was the highest the UK has seen in a referendum in nearly a hundred years, and the very young voters were thought to have had a considerable impact on the outcome of the vote. The stage has been set for change, yet in the general elections since and in the EU referendum, the voting age has remained at 18.

For the sake of democracy and securing the interests of the youth, we need to let our voice be heard. This could change politics in the UK, encouraging young activism and restoring the trust of young people in our government. What’s more, there is a clear trend in young voters being in support of progressive left-wing parties. This change will shift the balance of power. It will steer this country into a more democratic and inclusive future for everyone.

Ben Marshall

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